celebrities, memories, mental health, rants, stupid people

Fat jokes really aren’t funny… and neither are food phobias.

I know I’ve been writing a lot about eating disorders lately. I wasn’t actually planning to write about them again today. However, as today happens to be the first day of National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, I think it’s kind of appropriate to write one more post. If you’re surprised there’s an actual week in February devoted to fighting eating disorders, you shouldn’t be. This has been an annual event for at least twenty years. I remember being a temp at the College of William & Mary back in 1998 and seeing posters for this week plastered all over the Blow Building, which was where I was working in the office of admissions.

Yes, this is a thing.

Lately I’ve been passing the time watching old episodes of the 80s era family friendly comedy, Growing Pains, and I’ve finally reached the fourth season. Season four is when Tracey Gold, who played middle child, perfect Carol Seaver, started to become noticeably thinner. We didn’t know, at the time, that she was developing anorexia nervosa and would eventually drop her weight from 133 pounds to about 80 pounds.

Yesterday, I happened to see the episode “Homecoming Queen”, which originally aired on November 23, 1988. I was sixteen years old then, and pretty obsessed with dieting myself. I’m not sure I was still a Growing Pains fan at that point, though. The show had kind of jumped the shark by then, and I had a lot of other things going on at the time. It’s interesting to watch it now. I’m finding that it was a pretty decently written show, even in season four, which was the season in which the Seavers had their change of life baby, Chrissy. Anyone who grew up in the era of sitcoms knows that new babies or adopted kids always end up on the show as the original kids get too old.

The plot for “Homecoming Queen” is centered around Carol, who is nominated by her peers to be in the Homecoming court. Carol is shocked that they would think she’s pretty and popular enough to be queen. She sees herself as fat and ugly, and unworthy to be Homecoming Queen. She even considers refusing the honor, but ends up running when her competition erroneously assume she’s trying to sway people by being falsely humble.

About ten minutes into the episode, we see Carol having a terrible nightmare. Surrounded by her beautiful competition for Homecoming Queen, Carol is dressed in unflattering overalls that make her look huge. She’s wearing glasses and her hair is short and frumpy. As the principal and her peers laugh at her, Carol falls through the stage because she’s so fat. Then, her brother Mike, who constantly rides her about her weight, comes out and humiliates her, saying she’s “merely going through a stage…” as everyone laughs at her literally “going through a stage” because she’s so fat.

Tracey Gold has said that the fat jokes on Growing Pains were one reason why she became so preoccupied with her weight. As I watch that show now, I can see how the fat jokes really ramped up a lot in seasons 3 and 4, which was ironically when Tracey Gold was getting noticeably thinner. I don’t notice them as much in the earlier seasons, when she was legitimately heavier and her character was presented as nerdier and plainer. She gained some weight in 1988, but then lost about twenty five pounds with the help of a doctor, who put her on a 500 calorie a day diet.

Tracey Gold has also said that she had been diagnosed with the early symptoms of anorexia nervosa when she was eleven years old. I remember reading about that when I was in the eighth grade, years before she truly got sick with an eating disorder, around 1990 or so.

It seems especially tone deaf and wrong that the writers on Growing Pains saddled the Carol Seaver character with so many jokes about her weight, especially since she clearly wasn’t overweight at all. They also included “ugly” jokes, but I don’t notice as many of those as “fat” jokes. In fact, on the “Homecoming Queen” episode, Alan Thicke, who plays psychiatrist dad Jason Seaver, is shown offering Carol a piece of cake. When she says something along the lines of, “Oh, I’m not fat enough for you?” Jason starts to say, “Sure you are…” but then stops himself.

Tracey Gold talks about how she struggled with eating pizza in the last scene.

By 1991, the producers of Growing Pains, who had originally urged Gold to lose weight, suspended her from the show because she had become so skeletal. They required her to get treatment for her eating disorder before they would allow her back on the show. She did appear for the series finale in 1992, but she hadn’t recovered by then. She says that in one of the last scenes, the family is shown eating pizza and it’s very obvious that she was faking it. She says she’d forgotten how to hold a piece of pizza. I’m sure it was very traumatizing for her. Kind of like a phobia.

Which leads me to an opportunity for a nice segue… I’ve mentioned this before, but I think I wrote about it on my original Blogspot version of this blog. I happen to have a food related phobia myself– mycophobia, which is an irrational fear of mushrooms. I am a lot better than I used to be. When I was a small child, we lived in England, and there were huge toadstools in our backyard. I remember my parents telling me to never touch the mushrooms. I didn’t like mushrooms to start with, but somehow the directive not to touch them really hit home in an extreme way. I got to the point at which I would freeze and scream bloody murder if I simply saw one in the yard.

I remember my dad was pretty exasperated by my adverse reaction to mushrooms. He was kind of an old school disciplinarian and used to try to force me to eat everything on my plate. I actually have aversions to a number of foods, like unmelted cheese and most dairy products. I think this is because when I was very young, I was allergic to cow’s milk and it would make me vomit. To this day, I don’t drink plain milk, and aside from ice cream and butter, don’t eat most dairy products unless they’re in something. Like, I can’t bring myself to taste cream by itself, although I like it in coffee, and I would never eat a piece of cold cheese that hasn’t been melted. The flavor and the texture completely gross me out. Forget about any kinds of strong cheeses. I will vomit.

A couple of weeks ago, Bill made nachos with melted cheddar cheese. I can normally eat melted cheese, even if it’s cooled off. But on that day, the cheddar had a flavor that overwhelmed and ultimately disgusted me. I ended up throwing up. I do like some mild cheeses in things. I love dishes like lasagna and mac and cheese, and I like pizza, although as a child, it took many years before I would eat it. I can even eat cold pizza with cheese on it. I’ve read that some people can’t eat melted cheese, but they can eat it unmelted. Humans are so strange.

Anyway, yesterday, The New York Times ran an article about mushrooms, complete with a photo. I generally hide photos of mushrooms because even though I don’t run screaming from the room anymore, the sight of them makes me cringe and shudder. I imagine my reaction to mushrooms is much like Tracey Gold’s stated aversion to a lump of butter, back when she was very sick with anorexia.

I tried to hide the article, but for some reason, I wasn’t able to. I mentioned it on Facebook, and everybody laughed, which is rather predictable behavior among so-called friends. Now… I can understand why people laugh at this. I have a phobia, and many people think phobias are funny, especially when they are regarding something as ridiculous as mushrooms. So I don’t really blame people for laughing at my trauma. They’re ignorant and insensitive for doing so, but I can understand why they laugh. It’s probably my fault for mentioning it, although I mention it because it’s one of the many things that makes me unique. However, I did point out that people were laughing, but I was being very candid.

The photos on the New York Times piece weren’t too bad. The fungus looked more like sea anemones than mushrooms (to be honest, just typing that word skeeves me out a bit). I really get creeped out by pictures of mushrooms in food or toadstools (again– yecch). Like, they make me very uncomfortable. If sometime tried to make me eat one, I would probably have a full blown anxiety attack. Indeed, I did have them when I was a child and my control freak father would try to force me to eat things I didn’t want. Years later, he would call me a “hog” and shame me for being too fat.

A few years ago, I remember trying to eat a dish that had mushrooms in it at a fancy restaurant and I just couldn’t do it. They had to bring me a version without ‘shrooms. And this issue has come up at restaurants and when I’ve been invited to people’s houses for a meal. It’s always embarrassing to try to explain why I can’t eat mushrooms. Many times, people laugh out loud. I know it’s absurd.

You’d think I could tell people in the restaurant that I have an allergy. However, having worked in restaurants myself, I know that that’s also problematic, because the staff will then worry about my having a reaction. I don’t have an allergy, so I don’t want them to freak out about potentially causing anaphylactic shock or something. I won’t have a physical reaction if something I eat comes into contact with mushrooms. But if I can see, smell, or taste them in my food, the meal will be ruined, and I might end up vomiting or worse. I don’t mind if Bill eats them at a restaurant or something, although out of kindness to me, he doesn’t buy them at the grocery store and doesn’t cook with them at home. He’s also been known to switch plates with me if I order something that has them and his dish doesn’t. We have had situations, though, where both dishes have had mushrooms and I’ve had to get something else.

I once thought about becoming a chef, but ultimately decided not to when I realized that my phobia would probably be very problematic. In fact, sometimes my phobia has even led to embarrassing altercations. Below is a repost of a piece I wrote in 2017 for my original blog on Blogspot. I don’t expect anyone to read it– extra credit if you do– but it kind of illustrates how this issue sometimes pops up in my life. Incidentally, the obnoxious guy who laughed at me because of my phobia was recently fired for undisclosed reasons, and they never did spend all of the money that was left for their “party” at the Biergarten…

Phobias are not funny… (originally posted July 20, 2017)

Have you ever met someone with whom you immediately clash?  I think that happened to me last night.  Despite my rather funny personality, I don’t actually like parties very much.  I have a tendency to get carried away sometimes, especially when I’m in the company of certain types of people.  Not everyone can take my sense of humor and I don’t enjoy offending people.  Sometimes I do, despite my best efforts.

Last year, the guy who hired Bill moved on to a new job in Hawaii.  He left behind a huge collection of euro coins, which he donated to everyone he worked with.  The coins were all counted and it came to the euro equivalent of about $800, which was used to pay for last night’s gathering at a biergarten (and, in fact, not all of the money was spent).  It was a farewell dinner of sorts, since the company Bill has been working for lost its contract and many of the people who have been working with Bill are moving on to new jobs and/or locations. 

We arrived too late to sit at the table that was already started, so we sat at a second table that had been reserved.  Soon we were joined by another couple, the male half of whom will continue to be Bill’s co-worker because they were both hired by the new company that is taking over.  The first thing that happened was the guy came up, looked at me, and said “Who do you belong to?”

I answered that I am Bill’s wife.  He then made some crack about my being the daughter of the other guy sitting across from me.  I’m not really sure what that was all about.  Bill had told me a bit about this guy being a bit obnoxious and full of himself, so I wasn’t that surprised at his comment.  This guy also referred to me as “Jen”, when I introduced myself as “Jenny”.  That also happens to be a pet peeve of mine, when someone takes it upon themselves to change my name, especially when they’ve just met me.

I noticed his wife sitting in the corner with their son, whom I had met before.  He is a very bright kid for his age and already speaks German pretty well.  I could tell he is the apple of his mother’s eye.  She was doting on him quite a bit. 

As the evening wore on, Bill and I found ourselves talking about different subjects, including one of the Space A “hops” we took a few years ago.  Bill told everyone about how we landed in Georgia after an overseas flight from Germany.  We were really jet lagged.  He’d gone out to get us some dinner.  I would have been just fine with something from the nearby Wendy’s, but Bill decided to go the extra mile.  He noticed a restaurant across the street and ordered take out.  He brought back steaks, not realizing that they had been smothered with mushrooms.

If you’ve been reading this blog, you may already know that I do not eat mushrooms.  In fact, I have a phobia of them.  I know it sounds ridiculous, but it’s the truth. 

So anyway, I opened the carton he handed me and was immediately confronted by this piece of meat covered with ‘shrooms.  They were totally grossing me out.  I was pretty exasperated because I was exhausted and hungry.  All I’d really wanted was a sandwich, and if Bill had just gotten something at Wendy’s, I could have had a sandwich and gone to bed.  Instead, I was sitting there with what could have been a nice dinner that was rendered completely unappetizing due to the fungus.  Aside from that, I was annoyed that a restaurant would put mushrooms on a steak without advertising that they were going to do so. 

Bill was telling this story and people were wondering why I didn’t just scrape off the mushrooms.  And that’s where the whole mushroom phobia story came in.  Phobias are, by nature, ridiculous, irrational, and perhaps even funny.  However, if you actually have a phobia, it’s not really a laughing matter. 

My whole life, I’ve been laughed at for having a fear of mushrooms.  When I was a kid, family members even chased me with them and yukked it up when I reacted with fear.  I can mostly laugh about it now… and the phobia is not nearly as bad as it used to be.  For instance, I no longer scream when I am confronted with mushrooms.  I don’t like having them on my plate and I refuse to touch them or eat them, but I won’t freak out or anything.  I still have a phobia, though. 

I used to think I was the only person with this problem, but then I wrote an article about mycophobia (fear of mushrooms).  In my article, I even referenced an episode of The Montel Williams Show that was about phobias.  There was a woman on that show who was afraid of mushrooms and reacted the very same way I did when I was much younger.  She actually saw my article and sent me an email.  I got so many comments and emails from people who have unusual phobias and happened to read my article.  In fact, a quick YouTube search turns up a number of videos about mycophobia (mushroom phobia).

I was trying to explain this last night.  I will admit, a phobia of something weird like mushrooms sounds hilarious if you don’t make an effort to understand what having a phobia is like.  I have been in some embarrassing and annoying situations due to this problem, but I can see why some people think it’s funny. 

Of course, Bill’s co-worker thought my mushroom phobia was totally hilarious.  He was cracking jokes and hysterically laughing at me, as was his son.  I was trying to explain the origins of the phobia, which started when I was a little kid, and he was just having a knee slapper of a time laughing.  I had been drinking beer, so I was feeling my oats.  And I let loose with some really far out insults involving his testicles being covered with fungus.  I’m sure whatever I said was shocking and disgusting.  Sometimes, I have no filter, especially if I’ve been drinking.

I could tell the guy’s wife was horrified and it looked like she was trying to shield her son from the insults springing forth from me.  I wasn’t sure if she was horrified by my comments, her husband’s comments, or the whole scene in general.  But anyway, they made a hasty retreat.  I’m sure they think I’m an asshole, now.  On the other hand, I thought the guy was being an asshole for outwardly laughing at me and lacking empathy. 

Meh… I really think sometimes I should not go to these kinds of parties with Bill.  I’m sure a lot of his co-workers think I’m nuts.  On the plus side, we did talk to a really nice lady last night.  Too bad she and her husband (and their fabulous dog) will be leaving soon.  Also, I gave our waitress the stink eye because she told me that putting a wine bottle upside down in a galvanized bucket full of melted ice is “nasty”.  That sounded a bit like bullshit to me, but what do I know?  She was happy when we left, though, because she was tipped handsomely.

Ex, family, healthcare, love, marriage, mental health

Adam and Darla’s bizarre love story…

You know that old song by Billy Joel? I know it well. It was a hit when I was a young child. The lyrics are timeless. The melody endures. Many of us would love to have a friend or a loved one who takes us just the way we are.

Billy wrote a masterpiece that has stood the test of time.

But is it always best to love someone just the way they are? Are there times when it’s unwise or unhealthy to take someone just the way they are? Obviously, yes, there are. My husband tried to love his ex wife just the way she was until he realized he couldn’t anymore. His own life was at risk by accepting her “as/is”. So they got divorced and he’s much better off for it. I don’t know if she’s better off. It’s not my business, anyway.

This topic comes up this morning after I read an admittedly bizarre “love story” in The New York Times. Adam Barrows wrote an article entitled “I Wanted to Love Her, Not Save Her”. The tag line read, “The first time we spoke, she was so weak she had collapsed. Why did that not alarm me?” When someone uses the word “alarm” in a tag line, you can be sure high drama is about to ensue. I was hooked.

So I read Adam Barrows’ story about meeting his wife, Darla. They were both working at a chain bookstore in Minneapolis, Minnesota when Barrows came upon his future wife passed out on the floor. Although they had been co-workers, he had never really spoken to her. He just noticed that she was painfully thin.

As Darla’s vision came back, she explained to Adam that she suffered from anorexia nervosa and hadn’t eaten in several days. He asked her if he could get her something to eat. She said no, and asked him to just sit with her for a minute until her strength returned. Adam sat with her and they developed a friendship. As they got closer and eventually “fell in love”, Darla continued to starve herself. Adam did nothing to get her to change her behavior. He writes:

I didn’t try to help her with that. I’m not sure why. It’s as if I accepted her struggle as a given, as a fact of her. I was struggling myself after a recent heartbreak and was trying to teach myself how to do basic things again: to think for myself, to walk properly, to hold myself upright, to sleep and to breathe.

To see her struggle to force down solid food, to watch as she spread a thin layer of butter on a saltine that she would chew to a paste before it would go down (this was her only meal some days) seemed not natural, of course, but also somehow unremarkable to me. I watched her starve and held her while she did it.

Some people might call that enabling. I called it love.

After months of traveling around the United States together, they ended up getting married. They had a son who turned 18 last year and, at this writing, have been together for 23 years. Adam writes that Darla eventually got somewhat better. She ate more and, over the years, put on some weight. He writes that before the pandemic struck, she was actually considering going on a diet, but didn’t end up doing it. While many people have gained weight during the pandemic, Adam writes that he and Darla don’t go to the grocery store much and that has had a “slimming effect”. I’m not sure what that means, but I’ll take him at his word that he and his wife are doing okay.

At the end of his essay, Barrows concludes:

Our married life has not been without conflicts. I have taken her for granted, put my needs ahead of hers, indulged my weaknesses. But I never have regretted the fact that I did the possibly irresponsible thing back then by not acting alarmed about her anorexia, by not pressuring her to do anything about it, and instead just loving her for who she was. She never wanted heroic intervention from me or from anyone else. She triumphed over her issues with food on her own terms and is happy for me to be sharing our story now.

I found this story kind of fascinating. I went to see what others thought of it. Most people seemed to conclude that Adam Barrows is some kind of an asshole. Here’s a screenshot of the first few comments. They are overwhelmingly negative.

Someone else wrote this rather scathing response:

Wow, less the confession of an enabler and more the confession of a narcissistic a-hole with a fetish for damaged, frail women. It’s so quaint to wax poetic about how deathly cold her hand was the time you found her after she fainted. It’s so sexy to talk about riding in the sleeper car with a starving person in desperate need of mental health intervention. You sound like a right tw*t.

I didn’t get that Adam Barrows is a “narcissistic a-hole” just based on this essay. It’s possible that he is one, but frankly, I kind of doubt it. Most narcissists I’ve known don’t have the ability to be introspective about their own faults. Adam openly admits that his wife had a problem. He also admits that he might have enabled her in her self-destructive habits by not insisting that she seek treatment. Some people would say he’s a bad person for not rushing her to a hospital or a rehab center.

On the other hand, there is some beauty in a person who simply accepts a person as they are. I didn’t read that Adam was encouraging Darla to be an anorexic. I read that he didn’t disapprove of her for who she was. He simply loved her. According to his story, she eventually got better. I don’t know how her improvement came to be. Was it entirely through the “kissing” treatment he writes of, or did she ever seek any kind of help? I don’t know… and I’m not sure if that’s the point of this story. It’s an article in the Modern Love section, which focuses on different kinds of love stories.

There are also people out there who consider eating disorders to be a “lifestyle”. I personally don’t agree with that viewpoint at all. But I’m just one person. As I’ve recently mentioned in other posts, there are a fuckload of eating disorders out there that never get any press. Who am I to say that one person’s eating disorder isn’t another person’s lifestyle? In fact, we don’t even know if Darla was ever diagnosed by a physician as having anorexia nervosa. We can only go by Adam’s description of her and her own declaration that she’s anorexic. When I was much younger, I used to go days without eating. I passed out a few times, too. No one would ever think of me as anorexic, even if I sometimes engaged in those behaviors.

I’m inclined to take this essay at face value. It wasn’t intended to be an in depth look at Darla’s eating disorder. It was a story about how Adam and Darla came to be in a relationship. I don’t think there’s enough information in this story to determine what kind of person Adam is. But that’s not stopping some people from judging him. One person wrote:

This is problematic in a variety of ways. The sentence about how Darla was actually considering a diet before the pandemic is particularly disturbing. This diet is apparently supposed to be proof that she triumphed over her anorexia, but it is not. Recovery is not about achieving a certain predetermined weight, it is about rediscovering comfort and joy in your body and the food that nourishes it. The author does not address this at all. He also minutely describes his wife’s eating patterns and ED rituals. The romanticization of theses behaviors is very triggering and could push ED survivors who read this article towards relapse. His wife’s battle with anorexia is ultimately just used as the backdrop for his coming of age story.

The only description Adam includes of his wife’s eating rituals is in a paragraph about how she would spread a thin layer of butter on a saltine cracker and chew it up until it became paste. He writes that some days, that was her only meal, adding “I watched her starve and held her while she did it.” I agree, that last sentence sounds awful on its surface. But looking a little bit deeper, I think it’s possible to see his perspective. It’s practically impossible to save people from themselves. It all comes down to deciding what you– yourself– can tolerate. It sounds to me like Adam accepts Darla as she is. And just based on his essay, I don’t get the sense that he necessarily encourages her to be anorexic. I think many people are making that assumption because he admits that he never tried to force her into treatment.

An argument could be made that a person who is extremely underweight and malnourished lacks perspective. But, unfortunately, when it comes to mental health care, a lot of Americans are shit out of luck. Mental health care is neither easy to afford nor easy to access, especially right now. Moreover, thanks to our civil rights laws, it’s pretty tough to force someone into treatment for an eating disorder. Even if someone is about to starve to death, our laws emphasize self-determination and the right to refuse care. It appears that Adam and Darla may be living in Canada now, as Adam is reportedly teaching in the English department at Carleton University in Ontario. I can’t comment on Canadian laws regarding the treatment of eating disorders or other mental health issues. He makes it sound like perhaps she no longer needs treatment, anyway. Does she need it, having apparently never received it? I honestly don’t know. All I know is what he’s written, and even that is pretty subjective.

One thing I’ve learned as I’ve gotten older is that, in the vast majority of mental health situations that don’t involve some kind of biological issue, treatment works best when a person decides for themselves that they will cooperate. When it comes down to it, a person with an eating disorder needs to decide for themselves that they need help. They have to be motivated to get it. Perhaps if Adam had told Darla that he would be leaving her if she didn’t seek treatment, she might have found the motivation to get help. However, it’s my guess that she might have just as easily become resentful and angry about it. She may have seen him as trying to control and manipulate her. A lot of the angry women commenting on this piece would probably fault Adam for that, too. I think a lot of women blame men for most everything.

I told Bill about this piece and asked him what he thought. I know that if he were in this situation, he would have a really hard time watching. He would want to try to rescue. But he also tried to do that with his ex wife and he failed miserably. Eventually, it became too much for him to tolerate and, when she finally dramatically presented him with a divorce ultimatum, he took her up on it. Divorce was not what she had wanted. She was simply trying to be manipulative in a humiliating way. But he got tired of the bullshit and, ultimately, saved himself from her craziness by getting out of the marriage. He’s reaped the rewards and managed to stay alive, too.

Having recently watched a bunch of episodes of Snapped, and having witnessed my husband’s own dealings with a woman who is, frankly, very disturbed, I understand that this is a really tough situation to be in. Not knowing either of these people personally, I can’t judge if what Adam did was right, or if he’s a good person. A lot of people negatively judged Bill and me when I shared how Bill’s story eerily reminded me of an episode of Snapped I watched years ago. It was about a woman named Jessica McCord who, along with her second husband, murdered her first husband and his second wife over custody of their kids. I remember my blood running cold as I watched that episode. I dared to blog about how Jessica McCord reminded me of Ex. I ended up getting a shitstorm of negative armchair quarterback comments from people who wrongly characterized us as bad people. No… we aren’t bad people. We simply didn’t want to end up dead. And I believe Ex was capable of going that far. She threatened to kill Bill on more than one occasion.

Should Bill have tried to get his daughters away from his ex wife? Personally, I think so. In fact, I often encouraged him to try to do something about that situation, even though it wasn’t my decision to make. But, the fact of the matter is, we didn’t have the money or the time to wage a legal battle. It would have been very difficult to convince a judge to grant custody to Bill, especially since the girls didn’t indicate to us that they were unhappy with their living situation. It would have been great if he could have tried to get more equitable custody, but we live in reality. The reality is, it probably wouldn’t have worked. At this point, I’m simply glad he survived, and I don’t apologize for his decision to save himself. His daughters are grown now, and one of them has apparently forgiven him after confirming that her mother is mentally ill. The other remains estranged, but she’s almost 30 years old. She can reach out if she wants to. She chooses not to. As an adult, she has the right to make that choice for herself. Bill loves her anyway.

That’s kind of what I got from Adam’s piece. He loves his wife the way she is. Is it a good thing that he doesn’t press her to get treatment for her eating disorder? I know what most people would think. For me, it’s not so cut and dried. There’s something to be said for a person who loves someone regardless. And despite some people’s potentially erroneous assumptions that Adam prefers his wife “sick”, I get the impression that he had simply determined that he couldn’t be her savior. Moreover, it wasn’t Adam’s role to try to be Darla’s savior, simply because that’s what society deems is correct. What I got from Adam’s story is that he and Darla love each other and, against the odds, their love has survived… and so has his wife. I wish them well.

book reviews, mental health

Repost: A review of Safety in Numbers: From 56 to 221 Pounds, My Battle with Eating Disorders — A Memoir

Here’s a repost of a book review I wrote on January 15, 2017. It’s been copied as/is.

I finally managed to finish reading my latest book yesterday, while caving in out of the falling snowflakes.  I bought Brittany Burgunder’s 2016 book, Safety in Numbers: From 56 to 221 Pounds, My Battle with Eating Disorders — A Memoir, in August of last year. It took awhile to start reading it, and once I got started reading it, it took a long while to finish it. I think I was attracted to this book by its rather provocative title and many good reviews on Amazon. Now that I’ve read it, I’m ready to add my own thoughts.

Brittany Burgunder is a young woman who grew up battling several eating disorders. She spent several years suffering from anorexia nervosa and compulsive exercising. She has suffered from binge eating disorder. She’s also experienced bulimia. Burgunder grew up in San Luis Obispo, California in a two parent household. She has a younger sister named Kasey who gets a couple of mentions at the beginning and end of the book. Burgunder’s parents are clearly financially well off, or at least they are better off than many people are. Burgunder grew up playing tennis and showing horses. She enjoyed success in her sports. Having spent my adolescence riding horses, I know how expensive being involved in riding can be. Tennis is probably not as expensive as riding is, but it’s also not necessarily a sport for the impoverished. I get the sense that Brittany is quite privileged.

At the beginning of the book, Brittany Burgunder is beginning her college career at the University of California, Davis. She is suffering from anorexia nervosa at the time. Her health is very poor and the doctors at the university fear that she’s in danger of dying. She eventually gets forced to leave school and go into a treatment program. Most of the book consists of Burgunder’s journal entries and experiences in a variety of different eating disorder programs in Arizona, Utah, and California.

The most compelling part of the book is the year during which she went from weighing 56 pounds as an anorexic to 221 pounds as a binge eater. She gained 165 pounds in the course of just one year. The idea of that is unfathomable, but there are pictures and the physical transformation is incredible. Throughout all of her experiences, “ED”, the eating disorder, is in charge.  ED is pretty much the same voice in Brittany’s head, even though the disorder manifests in different ways.

One thing I did not like about Burgunder’s book is that it mostly consists of journal entries, many of which are very similar. I think this book would have been a lot better if it had gotten a couple of passes with an editor. It probably could have been slimmed down by 50-100 pages, which would have made it easier to digest. I understand that this is Brittany Burgunder’s story and she probably felt it was important to include everything. From my perspective, the continual journal entries made for dull and repetitive reading. I think I would have gotten more out of this book had Burgunder simply written her story and included some of the more important journal entries. She probably could have determined which ones were most important with the help of an impartial editor.

There are some insightful passages in Safety in Numbers.  For instance, at one point, Burgunder lists what she misses about “being sick”.  Her list struck me as very honest and I think she was brave to share it.  She confesses that she misses the attention she got from others when she was sick.  She enjoyed shocking her doctors and worrying her parents.  She liked wearing extra small clothes.  I also think her descriptions of what eating disorder treatment centers are like are interesting.  

On the other hand, at one point Burgunder writes that “recovery is selfish”.  While I think I understand what she means when she writes that– one must focus on themselves in order to recover– I disagree that recovery is selfish.  Constantly wanting attention and getting it by deliberately engaging in eating disordered behavior is selfish.  Worrying your parents and shocking your doctors is selfish.  Getting well is not selfish.  It’s difficult and brave, but it means you can get on with your life and so can your loved ones, who no doubt have their own life issues to worry about.  I also think Burgunder comes across as a bit conceited at times.  She often writes about how gifted at riding and tennis she was and how she’d thrown it away by having an eating disorder.  

People develop eating disorders for a variety of reasons, but it’s not quite like developing cancer.  Ultimately, the power to get well from an eating disorder resides with the person who is suffering from it.  That doesn’t mean that a person with anorexia can simply decide to eat normally, nor does it mean that a person with an eating disorder won’t have physical problems that will require recovery.  What it does mean is that he or she must decide that recovery is doable and worthwhile.  In that sense, it’s not unlike when Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz learns that she always has the power to go home.

Anyway… while many Amazon reviewers gave this book five stars and pronounced it “powerful”, I was less impressed with it.  I do think it could have been a better book if it had been pared down a bit.  Readers struggling with eating disorders of their own may want to proceed with caution.  Parts of this book may be triggering.  I think I’d give Safety In Numbers three out of five stars.

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book reviews

Repost: A review of Tracey Gold’s Room To Grow: An Appetite for Life…

Here’s a repost of Tracey Gold’s book about her experiences with anorexia nervosa. I wrote this on September 27, 2016, and am reposting it as/is.

I grew up in the 1970s and 80s, which were prime years for television sitcoms.  I watched a lot of TV when I was coming of age.  One show I rarely missed was Growing Pains, a family comedy starring Alan Thicke, Joanna Kerns, Kirk Cameron, Tracey Gold, and Jeremy Miller.  A few years into the show’s run (too late to save it), Ashley Johnson and a young Leonardo DiCaprio would also join the cast.

Since I watched a lot of TV as a kid, I also saw Tracey Gold in plenty of other shows.  She was a guest star on Trapper John, MD, starred in several After School Specials, and was also on CHiPs.  It was Gold’s appearance on CHiPs that finally prompted me to read her 2004 book, Room To Grow: An Appetite for Life.  I probably wanted to read this book when it first came out, but was scared away by all the negative reviews.  Now that I’ve read the book, I can say that although it’s now a bit dated, it’s probably not as bad as the many bad reviews would have you believe.  

Tracey Gold and her younger sister, Missy, were both child actors with some acclaim.  Missy Gold was the star of Benson, a show I never watched.  Benson aired for several years and, for awhile, Missy was probably more popular than Tracey was.  Both Tracey and Missy were products of their mother Bonnie’s first marriage to Joe Fisher.  When Bonnie and Joe split up, Joe was no longer in the picture.  Later, Bonnie remarried actor and agent Harry Gold (shortened from Goldstein).  He adopted Tracey and Missy and he and Bonnie had two more daughters naturally and adopted a third.

Apparently, the Golds were a very close and loving family, but had no boundaries.  Tracey explains that even if she had not been a child actress, she probably would have developed anorexia nervosa, which she had suffered from in two bouts.  The first one occurred when she was a pre-teen (and indeed, I remember reading about it when I was in the eighth grade).  The second happened in the late 1980s and early 90s, when Tracey was a young woman at the height of her career.  

Although she claims she did not become anorexic due to the many fat jokes hurled at her on Growing Pains, the jokes clearly did not help matters.  But, I suspect based on what I know about eating disorders and what Tracey herself reports, part of her problems with eating stemmed from having a mother who had bulimic tendencies.  And though she apparently loves Harry Gold as if he were her natural father, I suspect her biological father’s departure from her life also helped form the conditions that led to anorexia nervosa.  But that’s just my opinion and I could be wrong.

Room to Grow is a memoir that is mostly about Gold’s struggles with eating disorders.  Those who want to read about Tracey’s childhood growing up on television may be somewhat disappointed with this book.  She is interested mostly in explaining how the eating disorder developed as well as her relationship with her husband, Roby Marshall.  Since the book was published twelve years ago, it doesn’t cover the births of her youngest two sons, Aidan and Dylan.  It does discuss her pregnancies with older sons, Sage and Bailey.

This book is also basically well written, but does have a few editing glitches within it.  They are basically minor mistakes.  Ghostwriter Julie McCarron does a pretty good job of making this book sound as if it was coming straight from Tracey Gold.  I could pretty much picture Tracey saying aloud what was written on the pages.  There are photos included, but they are hard to see on a Kindle app.  

Room to Grow is not a bad book, though I think I would have found it more compelling had Tracey included more details about everything.  By this, I don’t just mean the eating disorder (which I’m pretty sure she deliberately tries to keep vague to prevent “thinsperation”), but everything…  I would have enjoyed reading a little more about her career and her family.  She offers a few teases, but doesn’t generally follow through.  So by the time I was finished reading, I didn’t feel like I got the whole story.  She’s had a very interesting career and comes from an interesting family.  More details would have been very beneficial to the end product.  Hell, I’d be interested if she’d just offered a few more details about her well known anorexia TV movie, For The Love of Nancy.  She had originally said she didn’t want to do this movie, but as you can see, she changed her mind… 

But overall… I think I’d give this book 3.5 stars.

Tracey Gold’s 1994 made for TV film about anorexia nervosa, For The Love of Nancy.

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book reviews

Repost: A review of Elena Vanishing: A Memoir

This morning, I stumbled across this book review I wrote for my original blog on October 11, 2016. I am reposting it here as/is, because I remember enjoying this book.

So, sometime recently I purchased a couple of books about eating disorders.  I generally like to read memoirs, so Elena Dunkle’s book, Elena Vanishing: A Memoir, was one of the books I downloaded.  Elena Dunkle co-wrote this book with her mother, Clare B. Dunkle, who is an established author.  It was published in 2015.

I didn’t know this when I started reading, but I have some things in common with Elena Dunkle.  For one thing, she spent several years living in Germany.  Her father works for Ramstein Air Force Base (I gathered, anyway).  The book opens with her as a seventeen year old at a hospital. She doesn’t mention it specifically, but she’s apparently at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center.  The psychiatrist there is described as a bit of a putz, as he threatens to send her back to the United States, where she’ll be stuck in a hospital with a tube forced up her nose.  Later, she describes being sent back to the States in what sounds like a military transport plane.  Having been on a few hops myself, I have to admit enjoying the read about those military planes because I could picture it well.  I had no idea they sent civilians back in them for medical purposes, though.

Elena Dunkle’s parents own a home in San Antonio, Texas, which is where Bill and I lived before we moved back to Germany.  Her parents temporarily move back to Texas while Elena gets treatment.  Elena has big dreams of being a nurse and manages to go to college.  But though she gets a job as a resident assistant, she makes the unfortunate mistake of mentioning her eating disorder.  That revelation leads to negative consequences, which don’t help her situation.  College life is stressful for Elena.  Her eating disorder is exacerbated by some traumatic events… events that would trouble anyone. 

Elena Vanishing is the true story of Elena Dunkle’s five year struggle with anorexia nervosa.  It’s a stark accounting of what it was like for her to be treated, in recent years, for an eating disorder.  It also offers an insight into the character of a person with anorexia nervosa.  I read one comment on Amazon.com in which a reader criticized Elena for “not being likable.”  I felt the need to respond to that comment, because I felt that Elena’s less likable and less trusting nature offered very good insight into the experience of having an eating disorder. 

Although many people who struggle with anorexia are “people pleasers”, the illness itself manifests with manipulative, secretive, dishonest, and ultimately unpleasant behavior.  Having an eating disorder is not wholly unlike having any disorder involving addiction to a substance or a behavior.  Part of the disease means being untrustworthy.  None of these elements of a person’s character are usually regarded as pleasing or likable.  But that’s what having an eating disorder ultimately leads to; a person who isn’t sweet, loving, and pleasant.  They resist treatment and become very recalcitrant.  The disorder causes them to fight against those who are trying to help them.

In 2007, the British soap opera Hollyoaks had a very good storyline about anorexia nervosa.  The actresses portraying the characters Hannah and Melissa demonstrate how nasty and sneaky an eating disorder can make someone become.  Skip to 2:29 to see how Melissa and Hannah affect a simple backyard party.

Overall, I thought Elena Vanishing was a well written and interesting memoir.  If I had to offer a criticism, I would say that this book ends rather abruptly.  I was surprised when I got to the end.  However, I have read a lot of books about eating disorders, and found Elena Vanishing to be a very good read, as well as an accurate portrayal of one person’s experience with anorexia nervosa.  I was particularly interested, because I have myself shared some similar experiences to Elena’s, though thankfully, I have never suffered from an eating disorder that ever landed me in a hospital.

This book is recommended for readers from the ninth grade up.  I think that’s an appropriate age for reading this book.  I also liked that it didn’t seem to be very triggering.  There’s nothing about specific weights or sizes that would serve as “thinsperation” for eating disordered readers.  There’s also little about specific behaviors that could be triggering for sensitive readers.  By contrast, the 1978 book The Best Little Girl In The World by noted eating disorder therapist Steven Levenkron, is said to be very triggering (and I will confess that when I read it as a teenager, I was pretty obsessed with it myself).  

Anyway, I liked Elena Vanishing and I think I’d give it a hearty four stars.

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